Prime Minister George Papandreou (third from the left) met with business and worker groups in Thessaloniki yesterday ahead of this weekend’s launch of the Thessaloniki International Fair. Data released by the National Confederation of Greek Commerce (ESEE) yesterday showed that small and medium-sized stores in most of northern Greece are closing at a slower rate than in Athens. Increased competition from large department stores and the effects of the economic crisis on consumer spending led to 17 percent of small and medium-sized shops closing in the capital in the first six months of the year, while stores in northern Greek cities closed at a slower rate over the same amount of time, ESEE said. The cities surveyed were Thessaloniki, Kavala, Kozani, Veria, Edessa and Larissa. Of 1,239 shops surveyed in Thessaloniki, there were 125 closures, about 10 percent. Veria had the lowest rate, with 58 out of 655 closing, or 9 percent. Larissa had a 12 percent closure rate, while Kavala came in at 10 percent.